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Full text of "Expenses in operating retail grocery stores"

GIFT OF 




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S 7 1915 



PUBLICATION OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF 
BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION, HARVARD UNIVERSITY 



VOL. II, NO. 1 



CAMBRIDGE, MASS. 



NOVEMBER, 1915 



BULLETIN NO. 5 
BUREAU OF BUSINESS RESEARCH 

EXPENSES IN OPERATING RETAIL 
GROCERY STORES 




CAMBRIDGE 

HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

1915 



BULLETINS OF THE BUREAU OF BUSINESS RESEARCH 

Bulletin No. 1. Object and History of the Bureau With Some Pre- 
liminary Figiu-es on the Retailing of Shoes 

Bulletin No. 2. Harvard System of Accounts for Shoe Retailers, Expla- 
nation of the Profit and Loss Statement 

Price 60 cents 
This bulletin is accompanied by the following forms: — 
Profit and Loss Statement 
Monthly Analysis Sheet 
Six-month Analysis Sheet 

Bulletin No. 3. Harvard System of Accounts for Retail Grocers, Expla- 
nation of the Profit and Loss Statement 

Price 60 cents 
This bulletin is accompanied by the following forms : — 
Profit and Loss Statement 
Monthly Analysis Sheet 
Yearly Analysis Sheet 

Bulletin No. 4. Depreciation in the Retail Shoe Business 

Price 60 cents 
Bulletin No. 5. Expenses in Operathig Retail Grocery Stores 



The Bureau's bulletins are given without charge to those who cooperate 

with the Bureau by supplying specific information 

from their own businesses. 



BULLETIN NO. 5 
BUREAU OF BUSINESS RESEARCH 



EXPENSES IN OPERATING RETAIL 
GROCERY STORES 




CAMBRIDGE 

HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

1915 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Introduction 5-6 

Summary Table of Percentages and Other Figures .... 7 

Explanation 8-12 

Plan for Future Development of Grocery Research . . . 13-14 



EXPENSES IN OPERATING RETAIL 
GROCERY STORES 

INTRODUCTION 

What does it cost to operate a retail grocery store ? How often should 
the stock be turned ? What are the average sales per salesperson ? 
In order to answer such questions as these and to learn the best practice 
in store management, the Bureau is collecting exact figures and other 
specific information from retail grocers. A preliminary summary of the 
figures which have been obtained up to the present time is presented in 
this bulletin. 

The Bureau of Business Research, it may be explained for the benefit 
of those who are not already familiar with its work, was established in 
1911 by the Graduate School of Business Administration of Harvard 
University as an agency for the scientific study of business methods and 
problems. Because of the need for scientific research in marketing, the 
Bureau began with that subject. The retail shoe trade was first investi- 
gated, and in June, 1914, a similar study of the retail grocery trade was 
begun. The shoe research is now being extended to the marketing of 
shoes by wholesalers and manufacturers. Later other branches of whole- 
sale and retail trade will be studied. The grocery research is thus part of 
a comprehensive study of the subject of marketing. 

In order to provide a common basis for securing figures from retail 
grocers, it was necessary for the Bureau to prepare a uniform accoimting 
system. Among the retail grocers who keep books, by no means a large 
majority, the methods have been far from uniform. As in other lines of 
retail trade, some grocers have charged their businesses with salaries for 
themselves; others have not. In handling rent, delivery expense, and 
other items, there has also been little uniformity. For the purposes of 
scientific investigation, however, it is essential not only that books be 
kept, but that they be so kept that an item on the books of one dealer 
shall mean the same thing as an item with the same name on the books 
of another. The items which are to be entered under each account must 
be specified, and provision must be made for every item of profit and 
expense. This is the aim of the Harvard System of Accounts for Retail 

5 



6 

Grocers, and upon this system as a basis, the Bureau has obtained the 
figures which are summarized in this bulletin. 

In the retail grocery trade there are several classes of stores. In each 
city there is usually at least one large store which sells fancy groceries 
and specialties. The margin of profit and the expenses of such stores are 
usually higher than in other grocery stores; the service requirements are 
greater. Chain stores, department stores, and maU-order houses are 
distinct classes, which must be considered separately. Other grocerj' 
stores, which constitute a large majority of the total number in the 
country, fall into two general gi'oups — one seUing groceries onlj-, and 
the other selling groceries and meats and provisions. The summary 
pubUshed here is based on the figures secured from these ordinary, every- 
day grocery stores and grocery and provision stores. No figures for chain 
stores, department stores, mail-order houses, or fancy grocery stores are in- 
cluded in the tabulation. 

The figures for stores selling groceries and the figures for stores seUing 
both groceries and provisions have been tabulated separately, and inde- 
pendent summaries prepared. On comparison it appears that for most 
of the items the significant figures are the same for the two groups. 
Where there are any differences between the groups they are slight. 
Consequently the results have been combined in a single table, which is 
fully representative for ordinary grocery stores whether or not meats 
and provisions are carried. 

For each item of profit and expense, for stock-turn, and for average 
sales per salesperson, the table shows the lowest figure found, the highest 
figure, and the common figure. For many of the items a figure shown by 
a more efficient group of stores is also given. The common figure in each 
case is the one which is found in the largest number of stores. It is the 
predominant, typical, or most frequent figure. The figures given for a 
smaller but significant group of more eflBcient stores indicate standards 
which are possible of attainment under ordinary conditions. For ex- 
ample, the lowest figure for Total Delivery Expense is 1.1% of net sales, 
the highest is 5.9 %, but the common figure is 3 %, and the attainable 
standard is 2.5 %. This means that any grocer, operating under ordinary 
conditions, should not be spending more than 3 % of his net sales for 
Total Delivery Expense, and that he should try to bring that expense 
down to 2.5 %. The other figures in the table can be used in the same 
way for making comparisons. 

Note that all percentages are percentages of net sales, and that all the 
figures used have been adjusted exactly to the Harvard System of Accounts 
for Retail Grocers. 



Summary Table of Percentages and Other Figures for 
Retail Grocery Stores ^ 



Item 
[For percentages, Net Sales = 100%] 



Gross Profit on Merchandise 

Salaries and Wages of Buying Force 

Other Buying Expense 

Total Buying Expense 

Salaries and Wages of Salesforce 

Advertising 

Wrappings and Miscellaneous Selling Exp. 

Total Selling Expense 

Wages of Delivery Force 

Other Delivery Expense 

Total Delivery Expense 

Management and Office Salaries 

Oflfice Supplies and Expense 

Total Management Expense 

Rent 

Heat, Light, and Power 

Insurance on Stock and Store Equipment . 

Taxes 

Repairs and Renewals of Store Equipment 

Depreciation of Store Equipment 

Total Fixed Charges and Upkeep Expense 

Telephone 

Ice and Cold Storage: 

Groceries only 

Groceries and meats and provisions. . 

Other Miscellaneous Expense 

Total Miscellaneous Expense 

Losses from Bad Debts 

Total of Expense Statement 

Net Profit from Merchandise Operations . . 
Interest 

Number of stock-turns a year: 

Groceries only 

Groceries and meats and provisions . . 
Average annual sales per salesperson .... 



Low 



% 
14.6 
0.1 
0.0 
0.1 
3.5 
0.01 
0.03 
4.5 
0.6 
0.3 
1.1 
0.3 
0.01 
0.4 
0.3 
0.1 
0.03 
0.01 
0.01 
0.03 
0.8 
0.04 

0.01 
0.03 
0.01 
0.1 
0.01 
10.4 
Loss 3.3 
0.2 



3.5 

7.0 

$5,000 



High 



% 

27.9 
2.4 
0.5 
2.4 

10.6 
1.8 
1.4 

10.8 
3.5 
3.4 
5.9 
3.8 
0.4 
4.0 
4.1 
0.8 
0.5 
0.5 
1.4 
0.9 
5.6 
0.6 

0.6 
0.7 
1.2 
1.4 
2.2 
25.2 
11.0 
1.7 



23.8 

26.4 

$20,000 



Common 



% 
21.0'^ 
0.5 
0.02 
0.5 
6.5 
0.1 
0.4 
7.0 
1.5 
1.5 
3.0 
1.5 
0.1 
1.7 
1.3 
0.2 
0.1 
0.1 
0.1 
0.2 
2.0 
0.2 

0.1 
0.3 
0.1 
0.5 
0.5 
16.5 
2.5-5.5 
0.8 



7.0 
9.0 
$10,000 



Standards 
attained by a 

group of 

more efficient 

stores 



% 



5.0 

0.3 
5.5 
1.0 
1.0 
2.5 



0.8 
0.15 



1.5 



0.1 
0.2 

0.3 

0.2 

13.0 



12.0 
14.0 



1 This summary includes stores which sell groceries only, and also stores which sell 
both groceries and meats and provisions. 



8 



EXPLANATION 

Gross Profit. In the grocery stores from which the Bureau has re- 
ceived strictly accurate figures, including, as has been stated, grocery 
stores which carry meats and provisions, Gross Profit ranges from 14.6 % 
to 27.9 % of the net sales.^ Within this range the bulk of the figures are 
between 18 % and 23 %. The most common,^ or typical, figure is 21 %. 
The percentage of gross profit does not vary regularly with the volume 
of sales. In stores with large sales the percentage of gross profit is fre- 
quently higher than in smaU and medium-sized stores. The Bureau has 
been surprised to find that some stores, in which fairly accurate expense 
accounts are kept, have no records of their purchases and cannot deter- 
mine their gross profit. 

Salaries and Wages of Buying Force is the first item in the expense 
statement. In the average grocery store the buying is done by the pro- 
prietor. Consequently this account represents chiefly a prorated share 
of the proprietor's salary, depending upon the proportion of his time 
which is spent in bujdng. The common figure for Salaries and Wages of 
Buying Force is one-half of one per cent of the net sales. 

Other Buying Expense is commonly small, since the bulk of the orders 
are given to traveling salesmen. Numerous stores have no expenditures 
to be charged to this account. 

Salaries and Wages of Salesforce is the largest single item in the ex- 
pense of operating a retail grocery store. It varies from 3.5 % to 10.6 %, 
as indicated by the strictly accurate figures, with several partially esti- 
mated figures higher than 10.6 %. A few stores seem to have an expense 
for this item lower than 3.5 %, but the Bureau is not certain that their 
figures are strictly comparable with others. The bulk of the figures are 
between 4 % and 8 %, concentrating around 6.5 %. A sufficient number 
of stores spend only 5 % of their net sales for Salaries and Wages of Sales- 
force to indicate that that figure is ordinarily possible of attainment. 

In the stores in which these low percentages of expense for salesforce 
are found, the wages of the employees are by no means lower. The 
economy is obtained not from lower wages but from larger sales per 

1 Several stores, for which the figures are partially estimated, or which do not 
appear to be fully comparable with others, show a gross profit higher than 27.9%, and 
a few less than 14.6%. In order to be conservative, however, for this and other items, 
only strictly accurate and comparable figures are given in the table. 

* The common figxire is known in statistical terms as the mode. It has been deter- 
mined in every case by means of careful classification and tabulation. 



9 

employee. Apparently the differences in the relative proportions of the 
orders received by telephone or by soHcitation at residences of cus- 
tomers do not greatly affect this percentage. This conclusion is based 
on a comparison of salesforce expense in stores in which (1) the telephone 
orders predominate, (2) the orders solicited at residences predominate, 
and (3) counter trade predominates. The common figure for salesforce 
expense is practically the same for each of these groups. The predomi- 
nance of telephone orders does not necessarily bring a large reduction in 
this expense; the time spent in taking an order is small as compared 
with the time used in filUng it and individual telephone orders tend to be 
smaller in amount and more frequent in number. There appears to be a 
definite tendency for grocers to collect a smaller proportion of their 
orders at the residences of their customers; many have ceased to send 
out any order soKcitors. Nevertheless this does not account for the dif- 
ferences in the percentage of salesforce expense. Other factors, such as 
management and the arrangement of the store, which increase the sales 
per employee, have more influence in reducing this expense. 

Advertising Expense is small in the retail grocery trade, varying from 
practically nothing to 1.8%. The common figure is one-tenth of one 
per cent. 

Wrappings and Miscellaneous Selling Expense is also small. It 
ranges from 0.03% to 1.4%, centering around 0.4%, a little less than 
one-half of one per cent. 

Total Selling Expense varies from 4.5% to 10.8%, with a marked 
tendency to concentrate around 7 %. In numerous stores Total Selling 
Expense is reduced to 5.5 %, or lower. 

Wages of Delivery Force is another large item in the expense of operat- 
ing a retail grocery store. The lowest figiu-e for Wages of DeHvery 
Force is 0.6 % and the highest is 3.5 %. The common figure is plainly 
1.5 %, with 1 % as an attainable standard. This lower percentage, like 
that for Salaries and Wages of Salesforce, is not reahzed because of low 
wages, but through improved organization of delivery service. 

Other Delivery Expense varies from 0.3% to 3.4%; the conmaon 
figure is 1.5 % and 1 % appears to be attainable. 

Total Delivery Expense ranges from 1.1 % to 5.9%, and the typical 
figure is 3 % . As a rule, a store which spends much over 3 % of its net 
sales for Total DeHvery Expense is unprofitable. 2.5 % is a figure fre- 
quently reached and a considerable number of stores spend only 2 % for 
delivery. 



10 

Management and Office Salaries is ordinarily about 1.5%, varying 
from 0.3 % to 3.8 %. Several retail grocers have reported that they do 
not spend any time in managing their businesses, and it is not beyond 
doubt that this is only too frequently the case in the retail grocery trade. 
The Bureau is not prepared to state that it would be advisable for the 
average grocery store to attempt to reduce its management expense. 

Rent. Owing to the possibility of utilizing less expensive sites, rent 
is a smaller expense in the retail grocery business than in the retail shoe 
trade. Groceries are convenience goods in which there is no style ele- 
ment and which are bought daily in relatively small quantities by almost 
every family. Consequently, the grocery stores, unless they are deahng 
in fancy groceries, are located near residential districts in close proxim- 
ity to their customers, and generally occupy comparatively inexpensive 
sites. Inasmuch as service to counter customers is rapid, or should be 
rapid, and since many of the customers give their orders by telephone or 
to order solicitors, the floor area of a grocery store is not relative!}' 
large. Shoes, on the other hand, are more in the nature of a shopping 
line. Each customer purchases at rather infrequent intervals and wishes 
to make a selection from a varied stock. Many purchasers of shoe& 
also desire to compare styles and prices in different stores. In order 
to attract a sufficient volume of trade the shoe store must ordinarily 
have a prominent location in a shopping district where rents are 
higher than in residential districts. Moreover, although the average 
individual sale is larger, the time required for making a sale is greater 
than in a grocery store, and relatively more stock must be carried. This 
requires more floor space for a shoe store. 

The conmion figure for rent expense in retail shoe stores is 5 % ; in 
retail grocery stores it is 1.3 %, varying from 0.3 % to 4.1 %. In grocery 
stores the tendency is for Rent to be less than 1.3 % rather than more, 
and a significant number of stores have a rent percentage of less than 1 % • 

The other items of expense are comparatively small, and little can 
now be added to the statement of the figures given in the table. These 
figures, as they are classified, emphasize the fact that only compara- 
tively slight economies can be reaUzed in these expenditures. The chief 
opportunities for economy are in selling and deUvery expense. 

Total Expense ranges in these stores from 10.4% to 25.2%. The 
most common figure is 16.5 %, but there is also a marked concentration 
of a smaller group of stores aroimd 13%. The Bureau considers it 
especially significant that the stores whose expense is 13 %, or less, can 
generally give exact and detailed information concerning their busi- 
nesses. Apparently they have been able to reduce their expense, 



11 

because of the accuracy of their accounting methods which reveal to 
them opportunities for economy. 

The classification of expense in the Harvard System of Accounts for 
Retail Grocers according to function — that is, according to whether 
an expenditure is for buying, selling, delivering, or management, or a 
fixed charge or upkeep expense — is fully justified by the results. It is 
necessary that confusion of items be avoided if the figures are to be used 
by individual stores for comparison. A lumping of any of these accounts 
would obscure significant facts. Furthermore, from figures classified on 
this plan it is possible to determine the expense for each service and how 
much could ordinarily be saved by the eUmination of any particular 
service, such as deUvery. Take for example two grocery stores. One 
does a cash business and makes no deUveries. In the other, credit sales 
are heavy and goods are delivered. The figures for these stores can be 
compared and the savings of the cash store can be ascertained only if 
the figures for each are classified as in the Harvard System of Accounts 
for Retail Grocers. As soon as the Bureau has secured figures from 
enough cash stores, a comparative study will be made of operating ex- 
penses in cash and charge stores and the results will be pubUshed. 

Net Profit figures vary widely. In fact, several stores have proved to 
be operating at a net loss when the proprietor's salary and other items 
were properly charged as expense. The highest percentage of loss is 
3.3 % of the net sales, in a store which had inadequate accounting 
methods. Net Profit commonly ranges between 2.5 % and 5.5 % of net 
sales, with 4.5 % probably as the most typical figure. 

Interest. In stores which show a net profit, from which Interest 
can be met, the lowest figure is 0.2 % of the net sales, and the highest 
1.7 %. The common figure for Interest appears to be 0.8 %, with prob- 
ably a tendency to be lower rather than higher. Dividend payments 
have been omitted in these figures. 

Stock-turn, one of the most vital points in retaiUng, is measured by 
dividing the cost of merchandise sold during the year by the average 
inventory of merchandise on hand. Since inventory, which is the divisor, 
is taken at cost, the cost of merchandise sold, and not the net sales, must 
be used as the dividend. In the retail grocery trade, as in other retail 
businesses, retailers tend to carry more stock than is necessary; their 
stock-turn is relatively low. 

In stores which seU groceries only, the annual stock-turn has been 
found to range from 3.5 to 23.8. In a majority of stores of this class the 
annual stock-turn is from 4 to 10, centering around 7, which is therefore 



12 

the common figure. Enough stores, however, are turning their stock 
once a month to warrant stating 12 turns per year as a standard to be 
aimed at. 

Grocery stores which seU meats and provisions have a higher average 
stock-turn than stores which sell groceries only. This is to be expected, 
since the former have a larger proportion of perishable goods which can- 
not be carried for so long a time. The lowest annual stock-turn in this 
class of stores is 7, the highest 26.4, and the common figure 9. A signifi- 
cant group of these stores have an average stock-turn of 14 times per 
year, and if their provision business is relatively large, the stock-turn 
is higher. 

Average Annual Sales per Salesperson is another particularly signifi- 
cant figure. It has a direct relation to salesforce expense. Although 
some figures indicate an even wider variation, it can be stated con- 
servatively that in retail grocery stores the average sales per salesperson 
range from $5,000 to $20,000 per year. In the average grocery store it 
is about $10,000, apparently tending to be somewhat higher in stores 
which also carry fresh meat. Although the average unit of sale is smaller 
in a retail grocery store than in a retail shoe store, the Bureau has found 
that the average annual sales per salesperson are commonly about $10,000 
in each. The greater frequency in the sales of staples and standardized 
goods in retail grocery stores offsets the higher average unit of sale in 
shoe stores. 

The figures from which this summary of expenses and other items was 
prepared were obtained from 253 stores in both large and small cities, 
mainly in the East and in the Middle West.^ The annual sales in the 
smallest of these stores were $4,000 and in the largest $311,000. A 
majority of the stores, however, were of medium size, with annual sales 
varying from $20,000 to $65,000. Despite the wide geographical area 
represented and despite the wide range in size, the experience of the 
Bureau indicates that the proprietor of any ordinary grocery store will 
be warranted in accepting the figures as a reliable guide; he can advan- 
tageously compare his own results with them. The lowest expense ratios 
were not found in the largest stores, nor the highest in the smallest 
stores. The greatest variations were commonly between stores of ap- 
proximately the same size operating under similar conditions in a single 
locality. As a general rule, the common figures for the stores in one city 
correspond closely to the common figures for similar stores in other cities. 

1 In addition to these 253 stores, the Bureau has obtained schedules and incomplete 
figures from over 250 retail grocers who could not furnish reliable profit and loss 
statements. The total number of retail grocers who have furnished specific informa- 
tion about their businesses is therefore over 500. 



13 



PLAN FOR FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF GROCERY 

RESEARCH 

The Bureau is continuing this research in order to obtain figures for a 
larger number of stores of the class covered in this bulletin and for the 
other classes of grocery stores. That will make possible a grouping by 
geographical districts, by size of cities, by classes of stores, and by size of 
stores. It confidently expects that eventually returns will be obtained 
from a much larger number of stores in all parts of the country. The 
experience of the Bureau has proved that the Harvard System of Ac- 
counts for Retail Grocers is well suited to the needs of both large and 
small stores. The system has been adopted not only by many large and 
medium-sized stores,^ but several stores with annual sales of $10,000 
and less are using it. This accounting system has met the needs of the 
average retail grocer who heretofore has had no adequate system. Other 
grocers who have had good systems have concluded that it is to their 
advantage to make such changes as are necessary to bring their methods 
into exact conformity with the Harvard System of Accounts for Retail 
Grocers, in order that they can compare their own figures exactly with 
the standards established by this research. They have readily appre- 
ciated that unless their figures are upon exactly the same basis as those 
collected by the Bureau, no valuable comparisons can be made. This 
accounting system has also been endorsed by manufacturers, whole- 
salers, association secretaries, and credit men. The grocery research 
is being actively assisted by individual representatives of these various 
interests and by special committees of the Chicago Association of Credit 
Men and of the National Wholesale Grocers' Association. 

As was stated at the beginning of this bulletin, the Bureau is also seek- 
ing to learn the best practices in store management — in buying, selHng, 
and stock-handling. For this purpose, the Bureau has prepared a com- 
prehensive schedule of questions which is being filled out by its coopera- 
tors. Much of the information called for on the schedule is necessarily 
less exact than the figures secured from retailers' books. A grocer 
cannot afford to keep the detailed records which would enable, him to 
answer all these questions exactly. Nevertheless, the information thus 
obtained represents intelligent estimates and is highly valuable. Al- 
though there are occasional exceptions, these estimates obtained from 
scattered sources show a remarkable similarity. The replies to the 

1 Over 3,500 copies of the Harvard System of Accovmts for Retail Grocers have been 
distributed on request to retail grocers since August 1, 1914. The Bureau is unable 
to state definitely how many of those who have received the system have already put 
it into use. 



14 

questions on the Schedule for Retail Grocers will be summarized and 

published in a later bulletin. 

One of the chief questions on the schedule is: Do you employ any 

system of stock records ? Does it show for each hne and 

brand — the quantity received ? ; quantity on hand ? ; 

quantity sold ? ; quantity ordered ? ; quantity to 

buy ? ; source of supply ? ; dates to buy ? ; 

percentage of profit ? ; or any other information ? 

Is this information obtained from sales slips ? ; or how ? 

For what period is the record kept ? What is your method of 

following the movement of new brands, slow movers, and specialties ? 

(Will you kindly furnish blank form or forms of your stock- 
keeping system) . 

The answers to this question indicate that very few grocers have any 
kind of a stock-keeping system. The number of brands of merchandise 
carried in the average grocery store is from 750 to 1,000. In a large 
fancy grocery it may rise to 5,000. The individual sales of each brand 
are small in amount but frequent. Under these conditions, it appears 
that it is seldom economically possible for a grocer to use a stock- 
keeping system which requires entries of items from the sales sUps which 
are kept for other purposes. The Bureau is studying this problem with 
a view to recommending some alternative method of recording the 
movement of stock. Other problems of store management are being 
carefully studied. 

In conclusion, it is to be pointed out that although the Bureau beUeves 
these figures to be thoroughly rehable, they are to be considered as pre- 
liminary and subject to revision as soon as figures have been obtained 
from a larger number of stores. This object can be achieved promptly 
only if retail grocers adopt this accounting system and cooperate with 
the Bureau. Upon request a complete set of the Harvard System of 
Accounts for Retail Grocers will be sent to any grocer who has not 
already received it. 



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